Babe, I’m leaving! But don’t worry, I’ll be back!

Leave

One of the best ways I know how to strengthen the relationship with my husband is to leave him every once in a while. By creating some physical space between us, I find that we can come back to each other a little bit more of ourselves. This is so life-giving to each of us as individuals, but also to our couple relationship. The trick is to know when to take your leave and to how long your leave-taking can be to 1) give yourself a real break and 2) not be so long or too often as to make your partner resentful of your absence.

This is super important in those first few months following the birth of your baby. The idea that you’ll have as much time in that newborn period as you did before the baby arrived to do much of anything, let alone find some quiet time for yourself to relax and recharge is kind of a joke. After your baby comes into your life, you’ll have a moment where you realize just how lazy you were before. You’ll dream of the hours you spent trawling the internet, texting with friends, sleeping. Don’t plan on getting those things back right away – the demands of a newborn don’t allow for a lot of “unproductive” time. But don’t believe for a second that this unproductive time isn’t essential to your overall well-being, because it is. As soon as you’re able, you need to leave the baby with your partner and take a break.

I’m saying this specifically to the Mommas out there, because by virtue of the fact that you gave birth to this little person, you’ll most likely get some paid time off (but not nearly enough – Vote for Barb!) Dads and partners have probably already had to go back to work, and while I will not equate getting up after yet another night of baby waking several times and heading into the office a “break” there is something to be said about being away from the baby for a bit and interacting with other adults. It’s what I like to think of as Dad’s “surreal normalcy” – everyone around you expects that after your two weeks off, you’re right back in business. What they don’t know is that your whole life has changed and now at least half of your heart stays home with Momma and baby. It’s harder for new Dads than we ever acknowledge.

But staying at home with a newborn is no piece of cake, either. After some initial assistance from your partner, you now need to figure out how and when you might get a shower in before the whole feed-burp-wake-sleep cycle begins again. And initially, it seems like there’s no real schedule whatsoever! Momma’s “surreal normalcy” is that everyone else is out in the world doing things and seeing people, and she’s stuck in her home some days just trying to make it through.

All of this starts to get better and easier with time. Oh, time is your very best friend when you’re new parents! And there will come a day, I promise, when this surreal normalcy becomes your new normal and you’ll finally feel ready to step into this new reality. But before that happens – I want you to leave.

Your leave-taking has to coincide with a baby that takes a bottle easily and there needs to be an ample supply of milk sitting in the fridge. Choose a Saturday sometime around the 6 weeks postpartum mark and call up a friend and tell her you want to spend the better part of the day with her. If you’re breastfeeding, make sure to bring your pump with you and plan on pumping the number of feedings you’ll be missing at home. You don’t want your supply to be altered, but you also don’t want to feel incredibly uncomfortable.

On the morning of your “leave experiment,” feed your baby one last time and then kiss everyone goodbye and leave Dad and baby snuggled up together. This might really pull on your heartstrings. I want you as Momma to understand how hard it is for Dad to have to get up and go most mornings when what he’d really prefer is stay home with you instead. Do not leave him any notes about anything! He is your baby’s father and he can figure it out for himself.

Both of you might be a little anxious about how you’re going to get through the day in such different roles, and it’s okay to have a plan about what will happen if the milk runs out, or if you’re a weepy mess and need to get home to feed the baby. But try if you can to have a solid chunk of time where you walk in one another’s shoes. This can provide important insight into one another’s unique experience as the parent who leaves and goes to the office to work, and the parent who stays home to do the work of caring for your baby.

By accident, this little experiment happened in my new family. My work is very part-time and my hours are usually only evenings and on the weekends. About 6 weeks after my first baby was born, I went back to assist at a weekend workshop. I would not be teaching, I’d be the “set-up” person, registering couples, making sure the educators had all their supplies, etc. I brought my pump with me as I would have lots of downtime, but it meant that I was going to be gone from about 8 am until about 4 pm that day. I missed my girl so much it was killing me! I tried to call home a few times, but was forwarded immediately to voicemail. I had visions of my husband and baby taking long naps together and I was jealous as hell! I hated being away from either one of them. But I got through the day okay.

When I walked in the door that afternoon, my husband was washing dishes at the sink. (!) When I asked, “What did the two of you do all day?” He turned to me with a look that was pure exasperation mixed with total understanding and announced, “I fed the baby all day long.”

In one 8-hour day, we both experienced what the other had been going through and the shared understanding was everything to how we interacted with each other from that moment forward. Also, in that one day, my husband fully stepped into his role as Dad and never looked back. His own level of confidence and intuition skyrocketed and I was so happy to have a true partner in this parenting journey. It was and remains awesome for me to see how we differ from one another as parents to our children – and how there are things that each one of us does better than the other. That can only come from direct experience and opportunity to figure it out on your own.

So, as hard as it might be to contemplate, let alone do, leave each other – not just in the newborn phase, but maybe once or twice a year after that. As your babies become children, and their demands are not so 24/7, consider taking a weekend here and there to be with your friends doing something that you really enjoy. You’ll come back renewed and reenergized to assume your role as Momma or Dad and your partner will appreciate you so much more. You both will recognize just how much you don’t want to do this parenting job alone.

I think this is one of the best strategies that has helped me stay happily married for 18+ years. I’ve left every once in awhile. Try it. But don’t ever leave your partner emotionally. In fact, when you feel yourself puling away or being pulled away, you want to do the exact opposite. Instead of leaving, turn toward one another and figure out ways that you can all spend time together as a family, yes, but more importantly, as a couple. The best gift you could ever give to your baby is a happy and stable relationship years down the road. Sometimes that means staying put and sometimes that means leaving for a little while, but always coming back.

Have you ever tried the “leave” experiment after your baby was born? How do you think leaving for a time might impact your relationship with each other and as parents? How can you prioritize time for yourself and as a couple to keep your relationship strong?

A lasting impression…

First

(Or rip, perhaps?)

Last night I slept like crap. I don’t know why, but I did. I’m someone who needs at least six hours of sleep in order to function. That’s not a ton of sleep and is a lot less than what most people need, but when I get less than six hours I’m not too happy about it.

The only thing that was making my sleepless night somewhat okay, was that at 4 am when I went to the bathroom, I sketched out my whole post for today in my mind’s eye. I was awake, this was not me sleepwalking or anything, and if I do say so myself this post was going to be brilliant. Except for one thing… when I woke up – POOF! Gone. I have no images, no direction, not the slightest idea about my brilliant post for today’s blog. I only have one word: “FIRST.” So, I guess it’s fair to say that for this entire month of October, as I have embraced my 31 Days writing project with gusto, this is my first day of not knowing what to write about. There are so many firsts with pregnancy, birth and parenting – but that might be my problem – too many things to choose from! Which is why last night when I struck gold I was so happy. Until I forgot. And of course, the more I try to remember the more it feels like someone has placed an unbreakable lock on that corner of my brain and they won’t give up the combination for anything. Oh, well…

For lack of anything more profound to say and with only one more day in my 31 days of writing left (and less than an hour to post this blog on the 30th), I’m going to write about the first time I really embarrassed myself in front of a group of students. It’s a pretty good story…

I was coming back after maternity leave with my 4th baby. It was early Summer and I had to search through my clothes to find something to wear. I found an old pair of capris that I was sure I wouldn’t be able to wear just yet. I was only 3 months postpartum, but to my delight, they fit. They weren’t even tight! I was so excited. I couldn’t remember when I’d bought these particular pair of pants, but I know I hadn’t put them on in close to two years. Feeling pretty good about myself, I threw them on and raced off to teach my class.

This class was week two of the series and during the 2nd half we were going to cover some basic positions and other comfort techniques so that couples would have some ideas of how to continue to progress through their labors. I’d already talked about slow dancing, the “doula’s hula,” and lunging. I’d covered effleurage and back massage. I had shown them two different forms of counter pressure. I was cooking!

Then, it was time to show them how to squat during their labors. Squatting can give a woman 30% more room for her baby to get through, so this is something that needs to be covered. I had the partners sit backwards in their chairs to act as the counterweight for the pregnant Momma to hold onto as she moved into a squatting position. I showed them two different ways to squat: either standing tall leaning over the back of the chair and allowing their legs to be splayed wide with nice loose knees, or all the way down into a full squat, feet flat on the ground, kind of hanging and holding onto the back of the chair. I showed them a couple of times what the high squat looked like and then again what the low squat looked like. High, low, high – and then just as I was about to go low again I heard a loud R-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-P! And then my old, apparently very old capris, gave out on me! Oh they tore alright – but not like a little tear, they were ripped wide open from the crotch all the way up to the waistline in the back. There was a huge, gaping hole that was now exposing my backside and whatever post baby underwear I’d put on that day!

Now you might think that I was freaking out, but no. I thought it was the most hysterical moment of my teaching career to date. In fact, I jumped up and said loud enough for everyone to hear, “Oh my Gosh – I just ripped my pants!” The lights were low, but they weren’t that low, and all of a sudden everyone in the class erupted with laughter! I had tears streaming down my face I was laughing so hard. There was absolutely no way to hide what had happened, and I knew that people would feel terribly for me if I acted embarrassed, so I didn’t. I laughed harder and louder than everyone else and gave them permission to laugh right along with me. This actually ended up being great for me! I was preparing a presentation for an International Conference about four months from then and my topic was teaching with humor, so in my mind, this could not have happened at a better time!

But now what to do? I still had 20 minutes of class time left and some serious stuff to share with them before they left for the evening. So, I asked a Dad to grab a poster off the wall – the biggest one in the room he could find – and then I got creative! I wrapped my bum in blue painters tape and a poster of laboring women and their partners modeling various positions. I became a walking billboard as I encouraged them to continue with a few more comfort measures.

I ended that class with Mommas in a hands and knees position leaning forward into their partner’s lap. I did this on purpose, because partners can’t do anything but give her a massage in this position. It’s like the back is right in front of them and they just starts doing it without any prompting.

I loved this… It allowed me to reassure the partners that they already have it in them to support Momma through birth. They’ve been doing it all along. They held her hair back when she was throwing up in early pregnancy, they ran out and found her good watermelon in January, they listened to her process her day and her experience of pregnancy over and over again. On the “Big Day,” they don’t have to be professional doulas, they just need to show up and be there for her – like they already have been – through each and every contraction.

This is what I needed to share with the class on the day that I ripped my pants in two. And you know what? After about five minutes of sustained laughter, they settled back down, took in what I had to say and they really got it. It was nice.

Then, I told them all to get out because I had a huge, gaping hole in my pants that I needed to fix. And they all erupted in laughter again.

It’s so good as an educator to remember to not take yourself too seriously – stuff happens, and you set the tone for the whole class.  Acknowledge it, laugh about it, move on and then, maybe, laugh about it again. I kept those pants and took them with me to the conference – I didn’t tell that particular story, but it helped me to take myself less seriously, even as I was on the big stage.

So there, brain freeze. I was able to write about the word first – maybe not in the brilliant way I’d planned, but isn’t that how it always is? I’m not a fan of making too many plans – in birth or life. And I think this post might just be me getting a little bit of my own medicine.

Are you willing to share with me a moment of true embarrassment in front of a group of people? How did you handle it? Ever have brain freeze? I’d love some tips on how to get through that

United we stand, divided we fall

Unite

I was going to write about how new parents need to come together to create a “united front” when it comes to how they’re going to raise their baby, but because of a great thread I’m following on Facebook, my focus is beginning to soften and is more inclusive. There is a need for new parents to really hash out all the key points on how you intend to raise your children – before the baby arrives. If there are any big differences in your parenting styles, it would be best to know before your little person comes into the world to shine a spotlight on them! And if there are challenges between the generations, and there almost always are, it’s important for the couple to unite together for the sake of their own relationship. If a particular issue with a grandparent comes up, their child should speak directly to them about it – not the in-law child. This is just basic information that you’ve probably already figured out as a couple, but has special importance when you become new parents.

Having acknowledged all of this, the thread I’m following on Facebook talks about how grandmothers might experience postpartum mood disorders as their own daughters become pregnant and give birth. This was nothing I’d ever considered before, but makes complete sense to me upon hearing it. What a woman experiences during her birth will remain with her for always, her whole life. As a woman’s own daughter begins her journey toward motherhood these emotions and feelings from so long ago might begin to resurface. This can cause strain in the mother/daughter relationship as the soon-to-be grandmother revisits her own experience. If it was negative or traumatic for her, than there will be challenges that come along with this remembered event. If there were no real issues at her birth, there can still be some challenges or feelings of judgement if her daughter decides to do things differently from the way she did in her early years of mothering.

The same can be said for fathers and grandfathers. We live in a very different time with new research and lots of ideas about best practices during pregnancy, birth and parenting that just simply did not exist when our own mothers and fathers were on their journey. It’s no wonder that we have plenty of families having discussions with soundbites like this:

“When we were having babies, we just did it! What are you so worried about?”

“Well, that’s not the way we did it when you were a baby, and you turned out just fine, didn’t you?”

The health care system I work for has a fairly new class called “Grandparents Today” and it’s geared toward softening these conversations between the generations. It’s taught by a retired L&D nurse of 35 years on the floor who also happens to be a grandmother herself, so this is peer-to-peer education. The class brings to light all of the current information we have on how to keep babies safe when sleeping, why there is such an emphasis on breastfeeding, how and why it makes such good sense to wear your babies and have them skin-to-skin as much as possible, etc. The grandparents who take this class absolutely love it! They come back to their own children and school them about these best practices and everyone lands on the same page – at least about the things that are taught in the class.

I’d like to propose these two generations take this opportunity of bringing the newest family member on board as a chance to unite the whole family around raising this little person to adulthood. It’s a ton of work to do this job well – if you’re lucky enough to have your parents nearby and can count on them to assist with the day-to-day care of your newborn, this can be a lifesaver for you and your relationship. But even if they’re far away, relying on the wisdom that they possess – just from having more years on this earth than you – can be so helpful.

When talking with them about your challenges, try hard not to compare your situation to theirs. Yes, you might be going back to work full-time and they stayed home, but every parent works – just in different locations! Include your father in this new stage of his life without resentment – it was a different time and he was not encouraged to take part in parenting the same way you are today. If your mother never breastfed you, remember that as she’s learning right along with you, her words don’t mean to be unsupportive, she just might be feeling a little guilty about not doing this when it was her turn.

Having a new baby means stretching, growing and making room for this little person. Everyone examines who they are in relationship to this new life and it brings up stuff for each member of the family, some of it good and some of it not so good. Don’t assume anything in communication with one another. If the words you hear sting, instead of getting defensive, pause and try to imagine where their hurt might be coming from. Ask lots of questions. Look for understanding and common ground.

Having a baby does not have to be something that divides a family – it can be something that brings you all together. Being aware of these multi-generational challenges can be one way that you get closer to your own parents. Isn’t that something worth fighting for?

When you had your baby, did issues arise between you and your own parents? How did you handle them? Did the baby bring you closer together or drive you farther apart?

This is your wake up call.

Wake

Sometimes the birth of a baby wakes us up. I’m not just talking about being awakened from sweet slumber several times a night, I’m talking about how bringing a little person into this world wakes us up in lots of other ways, too.

I just came from having coffee with a Momma of an almost 4 month old, and we were talking about those first several weeks postpartum. I was sharing how the minutes stretch into hours, days, and weeks with a newborn with no end in sight. And you’re constantly swinging back and forth from being wide awake like you’ve never been before to moving through your days like you’re in a coma. Hopped up on too little sleep and maybe too much Starbucks to get you through.

That immediate postpartum period can be one of delight and wonder, but for many new parents, it’s just hard work with little compensation. Can I say that? Or will there be a line of people telling me that it was “The most wonderful time of their lives!” Do they really wish they had a newborn to care for again?

Don’t get me wrong, I love babies – I have 4 of them – but I’m so happy when they’re no longer newborns! Those first three months suck a lot of the time – at least they did for me. And after my visit this morning, I think we should be sharing this with new parents so they can stop hearing over and over again how this time in their lives is so precious, and how they should enjoy every minute of it. Because they start to think there’s something wrong with them if they don’t feel that way.

Most new parents get that what has just happened to them is a miracle – and they’re grateful for their new little babies. But can’t we acknowledge, for their sakes, how incredibly hard it is to move through this transition to becoming parents? Can’t we just hug them and say, “I remember. And you’re right, it isn’t a lot of fun on the front end. What you’re feeling? Totally normal. I felt that way, too.”

Because as a new parents, they just want to do it right. But it’s so hard to figure out what “right” means for their relationship, their baby, and them as individuals. How do they navigate this time when their experience of this new reality is never even acknowledged? Parenting can be the best work you’ve ever done – but it is work, let’s not argue about that. And this work never stops. Babies might not need diapers any longer and they learn to feed themselves, but your work of ushering these littles into the world of bigs is never-ending. And sometimes, it gets even harder as they get older. Waking up to that reality can feel like a smack in the face – especially if you believe that you’re supposed to be loving every minute of it.

How can I ever turn this post around and make it hopeful?

Your baby awakens you in deeper, life-changing ways as well. You might find that you’re much more empathetic to others around you as they work hard and struggle to get through their own life challenges. You’re usually a little more humble then you were before you became a parent. Humility is a lovely human virtue that can cause you to ask others for help that you never thought you needed before. Tenderness and vulnerability are both awakened within and while this might make you feel uncomfortable, it connects you to others in a very real and authentic way. Wonder, awe and excitement at the everyday as your baby experiences it for the first time can be life-giving.

Those of us experienced mothers and fathers need to communicate the reality of what it means to parent a newborn. We need to wake up and stop reciting platitudes of “It’ll get better!” or jokingly, “It only gets worse!”

New parents don’t need our words, they need our understanding and validation that what they’re going through is normal, it’s hard, and every parent has experienced what they’re going through before them.

They so badly want to come to the conclusion that this was actually a good idea, this whole baby making thing. But in the thick of it, they just want to know that they’re not the only ones facing these challenges. Let’s stop trying to sugar coat the newborn period and get real with our families about what they can expect during this time. If shared in a way that is caring and validating, they won’t be scared, they’ll be prepared.

And that is a great wake up call.

How often did you hear, “Enjoy this time, it all goes too fast!” or “I loved having a newborn – it was the best time of my life!”? Was this your reality as a new parent? How did these statements make you feel?

I’m free to choose what I please any old time!

FreeThe students file into my classroom. They’re nervous. You can tell by their hushed tones and the way they’ll only look sideways at each other. The classroom where I work is behind locked doors, so even though they’ve all been standing together in the lobby for 5-10 minutes, not one person has busted out to chat with anyone else. Everyone keeps to themselves. That’s okay by me. By the end of our four weeks together, these same couples will be lingering after the class ends. They will have already turned in their evaluations but they’ll wait to walk out to the parking lot together, laughing, hugging and wishing each other good luck on their births.

In those first few moments as they file in, I sense their concern that they’ll somehow not belong, that they’ll not fit in with all the other people in the room. They’re thinking:

“Maybe everyone else knows more than I do.”

“Maybe no one else feels nervous and afraid about giving birth.”

“Maybe everyone else has it all figured out and I don’t have a clue.”

“What if I’m the only who wants a birth that is…”

I use a lot of humor in that first class. More than anything, I want them to see how alike they really are. How much they all belong – no matter what their personal ideas of pregnancy, birth and parenting might be. This coming together can only happen when they feel free to express themselves and their individual desires for the type of birth they really want.

I don’t want them going for the type of birth they think they’re supposed to have because that’s what all the books tell them. I don’t want them chasing after a particular type of birth because everyone in their book club has done it a certain way. I don’t want them trying for the birth their mother wishes she could have had.

I want them to sit with this group of other soon-to-be parents and know that there are lots of different choices about how to have a baby, and that’s okay. My goal is to make sure that I’m meeting them wherever they are and giving them permission to freely claim what they want for their births.

I encourage them to get real with themselves about their expectations of birth and what their participation in that birth will be. I feel like pregnant women know all the right words to say about having the best birth possible. They can write a Birth Plan that has all the right phrasing and necessary elements for the “perfect” birth. But does this reflect what they really want for themselves? Have they felt free to claim their real desires?

Is it okay for them to say that they want an epidural? Or do they have to feign zero interest in pain medication because the “best” birth is an unmedicated one? Can they talk about being induced because they’re sick and tired of being pregnant at 41 weeks and 5 days and not expect to get any heat for it? Is it possible for a woman to choose a Cesarean for reasons that are deep and painful to reveal to anyone, even herself, without being judged by those around her? How does she stake claim for an unmedicated birth, when everyone else around her says, “Don’t be a martyr – take the drugs!”

We should encourage all women to strive for a birth that has the least interventions possible – not because it is the “best” birth per se, but because it’s safest for most Mommas and their babies. I’m not arguing that point. But women need to come to that conclusion on their own freely and if the circumstances of their experience allow it to be so. She needs to be internally motivated for the birth she is hoping to have. And she needs to be prepared for all the myriad ways her birth might differ from her plan.

If there’s no internal motivation for the choices around her birth, the laboring woman runs the risk of feeling shame and judgement should she make any decisions that differ from this ideal during the actual birth. I want women to be open to all the possible ways one can give birth to a baby. I want her to stand up and ask questions of herself and her medical team. I want her eyes and ears wide open to take in any information tha might conflict with her initial beliefs about birth (as long as the info is evidence-based!) I want her to strive for what she feels free to express as her own desires for this birth.

When we set an intention that is externally based on what others think we should be doing or how we think others might want us to respond or behave, we’re trapped. We’re not being true to ourselves and we’ve created a prison of sorts. We don’t feel free to break through and claim our voice to express what we really want.

This can become a big deal when we think that there way is one “right” way to give birth. If our birth looks any different from that one “right” way, it somehow falls short. It becomes a negative reflection of who we are in that we weren’t able to live up to the expectations that we placed on ourselves based on external motivations. On the other hand, if our motivation is internal and not a result of outside peer pressure or false expectations, when the going gets tough our reserves will be there to help us get through.

A woman who freely makes an authentic and real choice that rings true to her deepest desires will never be disappointed in herself no matter what the circumstance. She’ll only push according to the bar she has set for herself and she knows she can adjust that bar to be higher or lower depending on her circumstances without feeling judgement.

If a woman freely expresses her true desire to have a birth that is medication and intervention free, then she needs to be prepared to work hard through each contraction. She must find her rhythm and a way to relax in between contractions. And she’d better be practicing outside of class time, as the short practice periods during class will not cut it.

If a woman freely expresses her true desire to have an epidural for pain relief in her birth, than she still needs to be prepared to work hard through each contraction. When she feels an epidural has become medically necessary for her to continue to cope with contractions, she needs to understand the potential drawbacks of an epidural so that she’s fully prepared for what might follow on the heels of receiving one. When she’s given all the information necessary, she can confidently make the best choices for herself during the actual birth.

When you give women full information and the permission to make their choices freely, they can own their decisions and this makes a difference on how she’ll remember this experience for years to come. Ultimately, I believe it can make a substantial difference in how she feels about her birth experience overall.

Freedom of choice – true freedom of choice – allows a woman to make the necessary decisions her birth might require. Having full information and making decisions based on her own internal motivation, free from outside pressure is the best way I know how for a woman to feel positive about her birth – even if she has to make decisions that are contrary to what the “perfect” birth might look like.

Did you feel free to express your true intentions and desires about giving birth? Were you supported in those desires? How did this affect your overall experience of giving birth?

Visiting hours? What visiting hours?

Visit

In addition to teaching Childbirth Preparation classes, I’m also a tour guide for one of the oldest hospitals in the area – old enough to have two separate wings. One is for labor and delivery, and the other is for recovery and discharge. There are only 12 labor and delivery suites and about 40 postpartum rooms. The distinction between suite and room is not made lightly – the suites are big! Big enough so laboring women don’t feel the need to have to walk hallways to help their labors progress. Big enough for water birth tubs to be brought in for those Mommas who are wanting that experience. There’s no way the number of patients who come through this hospital could give birth here if they stayed in one of these twelve suites.

So following the first breastfeeding session, Momma, partner and baby are gathered up and wheeled over to the Family Birth Center, or postpartum unit. On my tours, I walk my groups through both units. Back in the classroom, before we head upstairs, I make sure to tell them how tiny the postpartum rooms are. I make sure they know that the room will appear to shrink as I make the entire group walk inside with me into this little space. I do it on purpose – I want them to feel what it might be like to have just given birth to their baby only hours before and then be bombarded by visitors.

I think the small postpartum room is the best idea ever! In fact, I think it should be the design for all new hospital construction – although no one has consulted me on this point. It’s the best forced-upon-you-gift that anyone could ever give you as a new parent.

We have this weird practice in our culture that no matter the circumstances of our birth, we should be leaving the doors to our room wide open so that everyone in the extended family can come and visit. The FBC units at hospitals are usually the only ones that don’t have strict visiting hours. It’s the one place in the entire hospital where if the baby is born at 3 am and Grandma must meet her new grandchild at 3:05 am, she will be welcomed with open arms! But is this the best policy?

I tell folks on my tours that if they have tons of extended family in the area then they have my permission to lie when it comes to visiting hours. They can say that the visiting hours are only on Tuesday mornings from 6:15-6:45. Whatever they need to do to keep the visitors away. If the Momma has help (she should always have at least one person who stays with her the entire time she is in the hospital to help with the workload that comes along with a newborn) then really everyone else should just stay home and leave the couple alone.

Unfortunately, not enough new parents understand this and so they actually invite visitors to come and see the baby. They end up with a steady stream of people walking in and out throughout normal waking hours while their baby is sleeping (and the parents should be sleeping!) and then there are never any extra hands in the middle of the night when baby is wide awake and parents so desperately want to be asleep! When we’re receiving visitors, we force ourselves to be up and chatty and peppy and ready to show off our little angel – but inside, we might be wanting to just snuggle with our new baby, learn how to get the hang of breastfeeding and doze on and off throughout the day.

When we have the internal struggle between what we think we “should” be doing and what we really “want” to be doing, this causes conflict. We fake it most of the time and when the visitors finally stop coming, we break down from exhaustion or from our hormones shifting – and our partners have to pick up the pieces.

The only things Mommas should be worried about in the immediate postpartum period is getting to know their newborns, learning how to breastfeed, and beginning the physical and emotional recovery process. Every single visitor we entertain takes away from all three of these extremely important and full-time jobs.

Not everyone will understand your baby’s early feeding cues – when your baby starts mouthing its fingers, she’s telling you that she’s could eat if you were up to feeding her. This is a subtle feeding cue and can be missed by Aunt Marge as she’s cooing at your adorable little girl. Guess when Aunt Marge will hand your baby back over to you? When she starts crying – a very late feeding cue. You’ll have to soothe your baby before you can even begin to try and breastfeed her, and because she’s only a few hours old and tires easily, she might just fall asleep. You’ve missed out on a breastfeeding session and will need to wait until she wakes to try again later.

Your immediate physical recovery can involve fatigue, breast and nipple soreness, and wearing an adult diaper so that you don’t have to change pads every 1/2 hour! Your emotional recovery can mean mood swings that can change minute by minute almost as your hormones try to realign themselves. You need time and space to just be. When you fake a smile and waste energy entertaining visitors, your whole recovery process gets delayed.

This is a post that not a lot of grandparents will appreciate! But some new parents might want to print it off and hand it to friends and family members at the baby shower. You could say something like, “It’s not me – it’s this woman, Barb Buckner Suárez! She says that we really shouldn’t have very many visitors for the first 2 weeks! I know, right? If it were up to me, I’d have you all over immediately, but she says it’s a bad idea – so…” and then just walk away.

Listen, all of your friends and family will still come to visit you – even if the baby is 2 weeks old! They’re still cute as can be and tiny and wonderful, but you’ll be in a different place by then and better able to gauge whether or not it’s a good time for visitors. Partners are fantastic about being the bouncer at the door and making sure that no one gets in that’s not on the list – understanding that the list can be changed at any time, for any reason. There should also be clear communication that the only way a visitor gets in to see the baby is if they bring food. Again, you can decide if it’s a good time to visit with them or not – if not, they need to make more food and try again some other day.

There’s one more thing about visitors – and it’s big. Throughout the whole pregnancy, Mommas are given special attention. People are always asking you when you’re due, they open doors for you and give up their seats on the bus for you, total strangers make eye contact with you and smile – it’s so nice. But all of that changes immediately once the baby is out of you! The focus moves to the baby completely leaving you to feel like an afterthought. It’s hard when visitor after visitor streams in and oohs and aahs over your baby and barely makes eye contact with you. You have been dethroned and this can sting a little bit. Yet another reason to hold off on the visitors until you’re feeling a little less emotional and a little more on your feet.

I’m not anti-visitors – well, mostly I am, but not completely. You can have as many visitors as you’d like, they can even stay at your house with you in those first days and weeks. As long as they’re the type of visitor who does your laundry, scrubs your toilet, makes you healthy snacks, does your grocery shopping, vacuums your entire house – you get the idea. Holding the baby while you make dinner for them is not okay. That kind of visitor should not be allowed near you or the baby for the first three months or so! Be very, very picky about who you choose to come for a visit in those first days and weeks after the baby is born. In this immediate postpartum period, you need visitors who will support you by letting you have as much time as possible working those three full-time jobs – getting to know your newborn, learning how to breastfeed, and recovering emotionally and physically.

If you limit the amount of visitors in your space in the immediate postpartum time, as well as in those first couple of weeks, I promise you’ll be able to engage with them so much more when you’re ready for them to visit. Protect that bubble of connection between you, your partner and your baby. If you have too many visitors one of them might end up popping it!

When you had your first baby, how many visitors did you want to have? How many did you end up having? Was it too many? How did visitors affect your postpartum period?

Pain and Pleasure?

Enjoy

Have you listened to the podcast The Longest Shortest Time? Episode #28, The Missing Chapter to Ina May’s Guide is so worth the listen. Please pop over there and do yourself a favor – then come back to me here. The interviewer, Hilary speaks to Ina May Gaskin – yes, the Ina May Gaskin, the grandmother of the natural birth movement, and basically tells her how she felt betrayed by both her and the NBM when her birth ended up not being at all what she expected after reading all the “right” books and doing all the “right” preparation for what she hoped would be an “ecstatic experience.”

I might be in the minority on this one, but I think it’s totally okay to say to pregnant women, “Birth is probably going to be painful.” Now what level of pain a woman experiences during her birth depends on tons of different things: Is she tired and hungry going into labor? Has she taken a class that’s really emphasized how to cope with contractions? Are there a lot of tried and true tools coming into the labor and delivery unit with her? Is she feeling confident or fearful of the birth process? What’s her labor support team look like? What’s her personal pain threshold? Is her birth slow and steady, or fast and furious?

There’s lots of extenuating factors that will have an impact on her ability to cope with contractions and manage them effectively without any pain medication. There are some women who really feel that the pain of labor and delivery is negligible! One of my students actually said, “I’ve had paper cuts that were harder to deal with!” In my experience, she is the exception to the rule. But having a painful birth doesn’t mean it has to be a negative experience.

When I hear that a woman felt like her birth was not painful, I’m thrilled! And so is the woman who’s telling me her birth story! But she’s happily surprised by this turn of events. In my classes, women are prepared to work hard through contractions and know they will most likely experience some level of pain and discomfort as they’re going through labor.

I don’t ever want a woman to be angry and disappointed that she actually had pain with her contractions. I want her to have realistic expectations that birth, for most women, is painful. I don’t emphasize that point, and I don’t dwell on it, but I think they should be prepared.

If they have the expectation that there will probably be pain in their labor – no matter how well they breathed with their partner in the classroom, no matter how often they change positions, no matter how they’re using the “doula’s epidural” of getting in and out of the tub for pain relief – then a laboring woman can work with her pain and not be overcome by it. Rather than making pain the star of the show, she can give it a minor supporting role and move on. Maybe this will allow her to actually enjoy the experience of giving birth.

It might seem like I’m talking out of both sides of my mouth.

“Birth is going to be painful.”

“Birth is something you can enjoy.”

But I think both statements are true. I try and have my couples imagine something that they’ve done, a physical challenge of some sort, that was painful to get through, but still left them feeling positive, happy, satisfied, proud of themselves, and accomplished once it was over. Then I’ll ask them, “At any point, did you feel like you were suffering?” If they feel it was a positive experience, the answer will almost always be “No.” If I press and ask if it was painful,  they might respond with – “It was one of the most painful things I’ve ever gone through – but it was so worth it!”

They would not be able to respond this way had they experienced suffering. It’s so important to make that distinction between pain and suffering. They’re two very different things. Pain is something we feel, suffering is our overwhelming and negative perception of that pain.

No woman should ever suffer through her birth. If she ever reaches the line that separates pain from suffering, then we’d better be doing everything we can to keep her on the side of continued coping. If she has crossed that line and moved into suffering, then we need to do something immediately or she can be traumatized by this experience – even if it goes according to her “natural birth” plan.

What about the woman who hopes for an unmedicated birth, but goes into the experience thinking, “If the pain gets to be too much, if I think an epidural has become medically necessary, I’ll ask for some relief.” She may not end up needing this relief. But identifying a tool to help her if she’s beginning to suffer is what counts here. An epidural as a medically necessary choice allows her to care for herself during birth without feeling like she somehow failed, like she wasn’t strong enough to get through without drugs.

More than anything, I want women to enjoy their births so that they are able to move into parenting from a place of peace and confidence, feeling proud and accomplished by what they’ve just done. I might sound like a broken record, but a birthing woman – despite mode of delivery – has co-created a new human being, grown her baby in the perfect environment and then on the day of birth, she either opens and pushes her baby through her body into this world, or she goes through major abdominal surgery to bring her baby into this world. She has already done an amazing job. She has already done more than enough.

Feeling guilty about needing to use interventions like medication or surgical delivery to birth her baby has no place in the postpartum experience. When a woman is feeling betrayed by her body, by the medical establishment, by the natural birth movement, she cannot fully enjoy her experience of pregnancy, birth or new parenting. There’s not enough room for enjoyment – there is only room for anger, blame, and shame. How does this benefit a woman in her new identity as mother? How does this benefit the couples relationship?

I think it’s entirely possible for a woman to enjoy birth, no matter what the circumstances, but we need to provide the birthing woman with realistic expectations about labor and delivery first. We need to encourage her to find her voice and participate fully in the experience. She needs to surround herself with the right people as members of her support team. And then she needs to be prepared to make the hard choices that weren’t a part of the original plan if they become necessary. In this way, she might experience pain, but she can also enjoy the pleasure of giving birth.

When you gave birth were their moments of pain? How were you able to tolerate the pain? Did you enjoy giving birth? What made that possible for you?